A star-shaped, dark brown pod that contains a pea-size seed in each of its eight segments. Native to China, star anise comes from a small evergreen tree. Although the flavor of its seeds is derived from anethol (the same oil that gives anise seed its pronounced flavor), star anise has a different heritage the magnolia family. Its flavor is slightly more bitter than that of regular anise seed. In Asian cuisines, star anise is a commonly used spice and tea flavoring. It's also widely used to flavor liqueurs and baked goods in Western cultures. It can be found whole in Asian markets and some supermarkets, and as a ground ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.